Mary Sims Gressette was an active and important part of Orangeburg for a lifetime. This past Friday, she died at age 102.
Well known by many across decades for involvement and leadership, Mrs. Gressette outlived her contemporaries. Hers was a life to be celebrated and about which younger generations should know.
She was a former president of The Times and Democrat, serving in the position from 1972 until 1981. She succeeded her husband, Dr. James "Toolie" Gressette, in the position.
The newspaper was an integral part of life for Mrs. Gressette.
Her family was involved in Orangeburg newspapers for generations. Her grandfather, James L. Sims, and Stiles Mellichamp founded The Times and Democrat in 1881. The new newspaper was a merger of The Times and The Democrat.
The T&D was operated by the Sims family, with Mrs. Gressette's father, J. Izlar Sims, becoming publisher at age 21 in 1911.
Before Izlar Sims retired, he increased the editions to Tuesday through Saturday. Under his son J.L. Sims' tenure as publisher, the paper began publishing daily by 1953. The T&D marked 136 years of publication in 2017.
J.L. Sims was the last of the Sims family to serve as publisher, but family ownership continued until Howard Publications purchased the newspaper in 1980. The T&D was acquired by the publicly traded Lee Enterprises Inc. of Davenport, Iowa, in 2002.
Mrs. Gressette’s son, James H. Gressette Jr., worked as a photographer for The T&D.
As Mrs. Gressette said during an interview at her 100th birthday in 2015, she was no stranger to the newspaper business.
But she also worked in another world of words.
After being valedictorian of her class at Orangeburg High School, she was a Phi Beta Kappa graduate of Randolph-Macon Woman’s College in Lynchburg, Virginia, where she majored in Latin.
She taught Latin at the former Wade Hampton Academy for a number of years while also leading the Orangeburg County Library Board.
And she adapted to new ways of using words. Beginning when she was in her 80s, Mrs. Gressette used computer technology to stay close to her grandchildren. An iPad was standard equipment for her at age 100.
“I write the grandchildren and look up things I hear on television. I use it as a dictionary. There are so many new words,” said Mrs. Gressette in 2015, adding that she did not hesitate to Google words that stumped her.
She enjoyed FaceTime and having conversations on the Internet using the software application Skype.
“That’s amazing that I can talk to my grandchildren anywhere, and they know me. I was about 85 when I got a computer, and I learned to use it pretty good,” Mrs. Gressette said.
When considering that Mrs. Gressette recalled when Columbia Road, where she lived, was not paved, it’s safe to say “amazing” also applied to her life. She was witness to and part of much change. She adapted, thrived and enjoyed. She will be missed.